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Mastic Beach Village wrestles with layoffs and fiscal worries

Mastic Beach Mayor Maura Spery, center, listens during

Mastic Beach Mayor Maura Spery, center, listens during a contentious public meeting April 29, 2016 during which trustees approved an amended budget with no tax increase. Credit: Danielle Finkelstein

Five and a half years after incorporation, the Village of Mastic Beach appears to be falling into fiscal chaos, laying off employees and approving a budget the village’s own treasurer says could lead to lawsuits and even more problems.

While the trustees in charge of crafting the $3.8 million budget that was approved last Friday have yet to publicly announce layoffs, Mayor Maura Spery on Tuesday confirmed at least some workers will be let go by a May 31 deadline.

Currently, Mastic Beach has 11 full-time employees and 20 part-time employees. Beyond layoffs of the village’s tiny work force, board members have given up their yearly stipends of $18,000, have turned in their cellphones, and no longer have access to their village email.

“I’m extremely concerned for the residents,” said Brookhaven Town Councilman Dan Panico, whose district includes Mastic Beach.

Since adopting the budget on Friday by a 4-1 vote, nearly all village officials have not returned multiple calls for comment or say they have little information about the budget.

Spery, the lone vote against the spending plan, said in an interview that the loss of employees will make it hard for most village departments to provide basic services.

Last week, Trustee Joseph Johnson, who took the lead in crafting the new budget, told Newsday it would not include layoffs. However, on Tuesday afternoon one worker, James Golio, 20, said he has been told his job will be gone at month’s end.

Golio, who helped build Village Hall a few years ago, was working what he considered a great job in the public works department.

“We could make this place great if we work together,” said Golio, a lifelong resident who earns $14.75 an hour.

The fiscal situation the village finds itself in came to a head last Friday, when the trustees rejected Spery’s proposed 125 percent property tax increase and passed an alternative budget with a slight tax cut.

Hanging in the air with the vote were the issues of how many village employees would lose their jobs; would work hours be reduced, and health benefits paid?

The vote came despite a warning from Village Treasurer Anne Abel.

“Be advised that the reasonableness of this budget should be discussed because many of the changes may have legal and retroactive financial impact and/or are not supported with adequate documentation,” Abel wrote in a document given to the board minutes before the budget was approved.

With the budget now approved, Trustee Christopher Anderson said he wasn’t sure of its specifics.

“I wasn’t a part of it as much as I liked,” Anderson said in a phone interview Tuesday. “We had time constraints and our hands were tied.”

The board says it will pay for what had previously been described as overspending on a road project by $430,000 through a municipal bond sale. And, according to the budget, village officials say they will generate $100,000 by imposing franchise fees on local businesses and will generate additional revenue through vigorous code enforcement and higher permit fees.

The new budget also calls for an $87,414 reduction to Spery’s staff including an assistant and secretary. Building operations would be cut by $60,000, to $41,949.

Some items will go up: employee benefits will increase by $48,126, to $242,500; legal fees would rise by $17,000, to $300,000; snow removal would increase by $40,000, to $265,000.

But the prospects of layoffs from village staff drew the most concern.

Suffolk County Legis. Kate Browning (WFP-Shirley) urged the board in a letter to retain its full staff.

“I am asking you to consider taking time out and not rush into a decision that could potentially be regrettable,” Browning wrote in an April 29 letter.

Also in an April 29 letter, Union Local 342, which represents the village workforce, wrote that the union “must . . . vigorously pursue every protection available by law.”

Lifelong resident Robert Miller, 49, said he will spearhead an effort to dissolve the village.

“It’s something the village didn’t need to do,” he said of incorporation. “They are running the village as if it’s a civic group.”

He said he didn’t see how the village could keep pace with the cost of capital projects and paving roads.

“We don’t have a big tax base,” Miller said.

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